There have been calls to crack down on legal and illegal construction in Italy after the head of the country’s civil protection office said more than 90% of Italian municipalities were at risk from landslides and other natural disasters.
Fabrizio Curcio made the comments in an interview with La Stampa after traveling to the southern Italian island of Ischia, where eight people, including a 22-day-old baby, have so far been confirmed killed in a landslide on Saturday.
The figure came from a report published in 2021 by ISPRA, the Italian government environment agency. According to the report, 7,423 municipalities (93.4% of the total) are at risk from landslides, floods and coastal erosion. He said 1.3 million people are at risk of being affected by landslides and 6.8 million by floods.
Luca Mercalli, the president of the Italian Meteorological Association, who was a scientific adviser to the agency, said the report was among the most important compiled by ISPRA. However, he said no action had been taken by the government to limit the risk in a country vulnerable to natural disasters.
There has been a growing debate over the contribution of rampant illegal construction to the tragedy on Ischia, an island in the Bay of Naples. Curcio told La Stampa that Ischia was at greater risk due to the high number of illegally built houses on the island, while stressing that other parts of Italy with fewer land-planning violations were also vulnerable.
Mercalli said another important report by ISPRA, released in June, focused on land consumption, revealing that cement now covers 21,500 square km (8,300 square miles) of Italy. According to the report, Italy lost an average of 77 square kilometers per year of natural and semi-natural land between 2006 and 2021, mainly due to urban sprawl, exacerbating damage caused by natural events.
There should be a law against land consumption and a law to limit the continued growth of construction in the country, Mercalli said. But no government wants to do that. These reports are made by a government agency, only to remain in the drawers of parliament.
Mercalli said legal and illegal construction contributed to the issue. There are many situations in which municipalities give legal permission for construction, but from a geological point of view it is wrong. This has to stop. And within the conditions of permitted construction, restrictions must be respected when building in areas already known to be at risk.
In some cases the Italian state has granted an amnesty for illegal construction, allowing people who have built properties on their own land without the required permit to simply pay a fine.
Such a measure was proposed by Giuseppe Conte’s government in 2018. At the time, Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Campania region of which Ischia is a part, said the amnesty would lead to death.
During a visit to the island on Sunday, De Luca said: Buildings in hydrogeologically fragile areas must be demolished. People need to understand that it is not possible to live in certain areas.
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